Wireless woes

I’ve spent the past month trying to split the difference, getting a good wireless signal in The Back Room, home to This Old PC, and the house, home to the iBook G4, especially without having a 2.4 GHz wireless router chugging away next to my head while I’m sleeping. Call me crazy, but I don’t want microwave RF, even at a watt, that close for that long. So I’ve been trying to keep the Netgear MR814 router (802.11b only) in The Back Room, where This Old PC connects easily over wireless from about 12 feet away. It’s that far because to get any kind of connection, I had to place the router directly in front of the french doors facing the house. Sometimes the signal is good to the house, other times awful. I changed channels on the router, going to Channel 11. That took care of my 2.4 GHz cordless phone interference, but a sniff for the neighborhood routers, of which there are many, shows that they’re all between channels 9 and 11 for some reason. So back to Channel 1 I switched, but that didn’t work at all.

So I admitted defeat, pulled the DSL modem into the house and plugged it directly into the iBook. I left the wireless router connected in The Back Room for more testing — which is what I’ve been doing and what I recommend to anyone trying to set up a troublesome wireless network: Keep your DSL modem plugged directly into your computer via Ethernet, but also keep your Internet-less router running so you can check the signal. If you can make a wireless connection, even only at certain times of the day, you can do things like change channels, or moving the whole damn thing, and still check the signal strength via the wireless capability of your PC, even if it is getting Internet via Ethernet. That’s what I plan to do.

I’m hamstrung, as it were, in placement of the wireless router and DSL modem, because we have a VERY small house, and it isn’t exactly teeming with available phone jacks and electrical outlets, especially not both in the same place.

One candidate is the drawer at the “telephone table,” which is, not suprisingly, the home of our main (cordless) telephone and answering machine. Oh, and now the cat‘s litter box. Long ago, I installed a double phone jack, so there’s room to install the modem’s phone plug. The electrical outlet is home to two wall warts (you could call them “AC adapters,” because that’s what they are), one for the phone, the other for the answering machine (it’s a digital Phonemate that’s been working with little trouble for YEARS). And this drawer, though filled with crap, does have a lot of stuff we use all the time — stamps, address labels, keys, cell-phone chargers. If I somehow found a place to store all this stuff and emptied out the drawer, I could fill it with all this junk. Two wal warts, DSL modem, wireless router, extension cord. And it is CENTRAL to the house, the best place from which to broadcast a wireless signal. Hmmm. But no.

The other candidate is the “coat closet” near the front door. It’s the most northwestern part of the house and would probably do well for the iBook in the bedroom. But would it reach This Old PC in The Back Room? I’d have to do a test. The problems: the coat closet is filled with stuff. Coats, boxes, etc. Now there probably would be room for the equipment, but there’s no electrical outlet OR phone jack. (Yeah, I don’t have a phone jack IN THE CLOSET — can you believe it?) But there is a non-working overhead light. I could screw in one of those light-socket extension cords that terminates in a plug, and if I fixed or replaced the light (I’ve got a few somewhere in This Old Shed), I’d have power. And it wouldn’t take all that much to run a telephone extension in there. Who doesn’t love being under the house? Actually, it’s cool down there, and during these 100-degree days, that’s somewhat enticing. Not as enticing as an air-conditioned interior, but …

And there’s always trying to boost the signal from The Back Room via a different antenna, or placement of the antenna.

Another solution: a wireless repeater somewhere in the house. They had them at Fry’s for about $30 recently, and I could plug it in somwhere in the house — it would retransmit the wireless router signal inside the house, making it strong enough to connect reliably throughout. But there could be problems, especially with WEP-encrypted transmissions. That’s what Netgear says in defense of their own product, which they claim doesn’t have such problems.

Yet another solution is Ethernet over power lines. For between $50 and $100 per device, these things will turn your house wiring into 85MB Ethernet.

And I could also run Ethernet cable between the two buildings. Yeah, I’m DYING to do that. Bruce would do it. Bruce has done it. Bruce is nuts, but he taught me at least half of what I know.

One thought on “Wireless woes

  1. Anonymous

    I have an old pc that doesn’t have Ethernet connection and I’m trying to hookup up DSL modem to get high speed internet. Now, I want to scrap that because I’ll have to get an adapter for the USB port to convert to ethernet. Can I go wireless instead? What do I need to do this?

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